The gender pay gap is a depressing but familiar tale: equally qualified men and women doing the same job, but paid different amounts for it, the women almost always the ones getting less. What has not been highlighted until now is the existence of a class pay gap: people from working class backgrounds being paid less for working in professions than those who have professional parents. A new report from the Social Mobility Commission today highlights this problem and the results should be a concern for employers in Britain.
Researchers from UCL and the LSE used extensive data from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS) - the largest survey of employment in the UK with over 90,000 respondents - to examine access to the professions and the impact of socio-economic background on earnings. The findings are stark.
Those from working class backgrounds earn an average £6,800 less than colleagues from professional/managerial backgrounds. Even when they are similar in every way that researchers are able to measure - including their level of education, their ethnicity and gender, the location they work in and the specific job they do - people from working class backgrounds are still paid an average £2,242 less than their more privileged colleagues. Women and ethnic minorities from working class backgrounds face a 'double disadvantage', and the gap is worst in areas such as medicine, finance and IT but affects a wide range of career sectors.
What lies behind this class pay gap can't be gleaned from the statistics of the Labour Force Survey. The researchers suggest it could be the attitudes of employers in how they view different types of employees, or the failure of employees from working class backgrounds to push themselves forward for pay rises in the same way as some of their colleagues do. Whilst salary negotiation is a natural part of most workplaces, it is leading to those from certain backgrounds in certain professions systematically being paid less. Whatever the reason, it is time for businesses to review how they handle these matters.
It is not easy for those from working class backgrounds to get into the professions in the first place - as the research today underlines, those from professional backgrounds are an average 2.5 times more likely to end up in professional jobs. This trend is particularly pronounced in medicine, journalism, law, management consultancy and the life sciences, with academia and the creative industries not far behind in their unrepresentative composition. It is another wake-up call for employers to help those from lower socio-economic groups get both in and on within their sectors.
Many leading businesses are seeking to change the picture above. For the first time this year, the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission will publish a Social Mobility Employer Index, which will rank the country's top employers on how open they are to people from all backgrounds as well as how effectively they enable them to progress within the organisation. Free to enter, with the option to be anonymous, it will enable employers to receive detailed analysis and benchmark themselves against peers in their sector and other sectors across a range of areas, including the outreach work they do with young people, the routes into their organisation, selection methods and progression - including whether or not they have a class pay gap. Employers are very used to benchmarking themselves in a range of areas and taking action accordingly if they fall behind; today's research makes clear how important it is for them to bring socio-economic background into greater focus if they are genuinely to find and develop the country's best talent.
David Johnston is Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation and a Commissioner for the Social Mobility Commission